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Newcastle ‘excited’ by top-four challenge, says Howe

Eddie Howe is confident his Newcastle players will not be daunted by the challenge of securing Champions League qualification as the Premier League season enters its final stretch.

The Magpies have four games in which to cement a top-four finish as they, Manchester United, Liverpool, Brighton and outsiders Tottenham jockey for position behind top two Manchester City and Arsenal.

A 2-0 home defeat by the Gunners last weekend slowed Newcastle’s charge and prompted hopes among the chasing pack of a late-season wobble, but head coach Howe remains upbeat.

“We’re excited, that has to be our emotion,” he said on the eve of Saturday’s trip to relegation-threatened Leeds.

“We’re looking forward to the challenges ahead, we’re not in any way, I don’t feel, daunted by it.

“In sport, sometimes the more you think the more you damage yourselves, so play the game. These players have played all their lives and played because they enjoy it, so let’s strip away everything and let’s just perform well in our next game.”

Newcastle know two more wins would almost certainly secure a place in European club football’s elite competition next season, which would represent a significant upgrade on their target when the season started.

Howe admitted: “The aim was to not be in another relegation battle, try to stay clear of that and then build a lot of aspects of the team and play to be successful and sustain that success long-term.

“Things have snowballed — now we sit where we do and we’ve done incredibly well.”

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